Certificate in Healthcare Administration: Everything You Need to Know
Healthcare hiring has been on a tear for decades now, setting all new benchmarks for job growth numbers in three of the last five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not slowing down, either; as the industry is on track to add nearly 3 million jobs by 2029. It has become the largest single industry for employment in the country and represents around 18 percent of the Gross Domestic Product generated in the United States today.
In October 2020 alone, CVS Health announced plans to hire an additional 15,000 staff by the end of the year, a massive push that will open up positions across a range of health service support roles.
As the demand for nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers explodes, so does the need for health administrators. Health administration is a field that is ideal for anyone who wants to put their business and managerial skills to use in in a way that can improve the quality of people’s lives every bit as much as working on the clinical side of healthcare.
There are plenty of financial incentives to go along with those good intentions, too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare administrators with a bachelor’s can earn a median salary of more than $100,000 per year. And it’s well known that high-level healthcare leaders can make more than physicians in some areas.
The combination of big demand and big paychecks is making a lot of people who earned a degree outside the field consider ways to make a career-change, and at the same giving people already in the field a solid way to move up the ladder.
But healthcare administration pays big bucks because it’s a challenging field, with ethical and regulatory considerations and looming issues of legal liability and patient safety shadowing every decision you make. Even the most accomplished businessperson or clinical worker can’t just make the jump into healthcare administration without some specialized training.
Adding a certificate to the degree you already have can be a fast-track option to get that training without having to dedicate years to returning to college or working your way up from the ground floor in the industry.
What Is a Certificate in Health Administration? – Post-Bachelor’s vs Post-Master’s
A certificate program offers a short course of college-level instruction that delivers a highly focused educational experience at a relatively low cost and usually in flexible full or part-time formats that cater to working professionals. Typically lasting less than a year and frequently offered in asynchronous, online formats for maximum flexibility, certificates always deliver on-point, field-specific training in the fundamentals of healthcare administration.
The short are two types of certificates in health administration, and both could serve essentially the same purpose. The main difference is simply what type of degree you currently hold:
Often the credits from a certificate program will transfer to higher-level degrees and position you to be stronger candidate when applying for a master’s or doctorate program if you plan to advance further in the field.
Whether You’re Looking to Change Careers or Advance, a Healthcare Administration Certificate Could Be Right for You
Certificates are just as well suited for career changers as they are for people working in healthcare and looking to specialize or advance. And when we say career changer, this could refer to clinicians interested in moving into a role outside of direct patient care, as well as people coming from entirely different fields:
Earning a certificate on top of a degree you may already have in a related field like health services administration, or even nursing or an allied health field, can prepare you for an expanded role within healthcare administration. A graduate certificate on top of some existing experience in health administration or indirect exposure through some clinical experience can give you the option of moving into a specialized area of health administration like public health, long-term care, or hospice administration. Or, it can simply hone your more general administrative skills and prepare you to take on greater responsibility and step into supervisory roles or other more influential positions.
If you hold a degree outside the field of healthcare administration in an area like social work, education, legal studies or just about any other undergraduate major, you will certainly find certificate programs available that can prepare you to make a career change and find your place in health services administration. If you hold a bachelor’s in business, that would actually be ideally suited for adding a graduate certificate in health administration. With existing skills in management or business administration, a certificate can offer you the training you need to re-purpose your skills and enter the healthcare industry without the expense and time-sink involved in earning an additional degree.
Certificates Vs Certification? – Clarifying the Difference
Don’t worry, you’re not the first to be a little confused by this.
Healthcare is a field that heavily values professional certifications, which are different from collegiate certificate programs. If you’re coming from a field like nursing or other areas of healthcare, teaching, the paralegal field, accounting, and many others, this is a concept you’re probably already very familiar with. If this is the first time you’ve ever had to consider the difference between professional certification and an academic certificate, it’s something that’s worth taking a minute to understand better:
Professional certification is offered by a professional association that evaluates candidates on the basis of their training, knowledge, and experience, and certifies them through exams to establish that expertise and grant credentials that are widely recognized in the industry, and among patients or clients.
Academic certificates are offered by colleges and universities, and just like a degree, provide the education, training and knowledge needed just to be able to qualify to take the exams required to become professionally certified.
For obvious reasons, the terms are often confused, but rarely used interchangeably by anybody in the know. Still, it’s possible that you will come across professional certification options as you search for academic certificate programs in healthcare administration.
Examples of exam and experience based healthcare management professional certifications include:
These are all valuable credentials and can move your career forward in the field, but they are designed to evaluate your level of education and experience, not actually provide you with it.
A graduate or post-graduate certificate program, on the other hand, is the way that you get that education in the first place. Offered directly by colleges and universities, academic certificate programs have the courses you need to learn the information and skills to become a health administrator or advance in the role.
What Kind of Specializations are On Offer with Certificate Programs?
Graduate certificate programs typically provide a general graduate-level education in health administration, but are also very often available with a specific emphasis that drills down into specific areas of healthcare administration that can include:
Public health: Delivers perspectives and tools that account for population-level health considerations, including epidemiology, statistical inference training, communications, and advocacy. Some public health programs have even narrower concentrations such as HIV and AIDS, food and safety, or environmental health.
Health care quality and safety: Emphasizes patient safety by identifying ways to improve everything from procedural guidelines for post-operative infection control to protocols for limiting patient exposure to staff and other patients as a way to reduce the possible spread of coronavirus or other infectious disease.
Long-term care administration: With an expanding geriatric population prompting an equally big expansion in the assisted living industry, long term care has become one of the biggest focus areas in healthcare administration. Long term care facilities have their own administrative, safety, and patient relations considerations that these certificate programs explore at length.
Health informatics: Every industry is putting the data to work to find solutions that aren’t always obvious without diving deep into the interconnectivity of a million different factors that only data analysis can reveal. In these programs, you will study how technology can improve the way healthcare data is collected, stored, processed, and communicated.
Health Policy/Public Administration: Everything from patient safety to the ways in which patient data can be used has to be hashed out and written into both internal policy and the laws set forth by government. Programs in health policy and public administration investigate the public policy and regulatory aspects of healthcare system management, and can prepare graduates for work with government health agencies or health policy advocacy groups.
Post-Bachelor’s Graduate Certificate in Health Administration
The majority of certificate programs in healthcare administration are graduate certificate programs. Though holding an undergraduate degree in business or a health-related field generally provides the most natural foundation for a post-bachelor’s graduate certificate, they are typically open to people with bachelor’s degrees in any field.
If you’re coming from a clinical background in healthcare, or even from an entirely different field, a graduate certificate can lead you directly to a career in health services administration. Make no mistake, these are graduate-level courses, and certificates of this sort are very often offered by the same graduate schools that offer MHA programs, so you’ll often see the same specialization options that are available with the MHA.
Most offer a general certificate in healthcare administration though, with titles like healthcare management, health services administration, or health systems leadership and management, to name a few. The purpose of these programs is generally the same—to provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary to manage a facility, which could include everything from a general practitioner or specialist doctor’s office, nurse practitioner-led practice, or long-term care setting.
Job Opportunities in Healthcare Administration with a Graduate Certificate
Naturally, you’ll be best qualified to take on jobs that match the specialization of your certificate program.
You’ll find managerial positions open in just about every facet of the healthcare industry – that means both the products and services side. That can include jobs with insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, big pharma, as well as major healthcare systems, small and medium sized medical practices, long-term care facilities, and in walk-in urgent care centers. They handle management and administration in every conceivable kind of specialty provider you can think of.
There are also real and significant roles to play in government; both state and federal government agencies are heavily involved in providing medical insurance themselves through the Medicare and Medicaid systems, and in some cases run healthcare systems, like the Veteran’s Health Administration. They also serve as the quality control and regulatory layer that makes American healthcare some of the safest in the world, working in places like the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control.
How Can I Qualify to Enter a Graduate Certificate Program?
You can enroll in a graduate certificate program after completing a bachelor’s degree—either right after you obtain the degree or after working in the field first. Application requirements can be stringent, however, in some cases closely mirroring the school’s graduate studies admissions requirements.
That means that, in addition to holding a bachelor’s, you will likely have to provide a copy of your transcripts, maintain a satisfactory GPA (typically 2.8 or greater), and provide several letters of recommendation. If you are a working professional you also might be asked to submit your current resume.
Many certificate programs also ask that you complete an essay that describes a bit about your background and your reasons for applying to the program.
On the plus side, relatively few certificate programs ask for graduate entrance exams such as the GRE or GMAT. And although their requests may line up with the application requirements for a master’s program, the actual qualifications you will be judged for will usually be less stringent… you will be asked about work experience, for example, but may not need as much of it as would be needed for acceptance into an MHA.
Types of Courses in a Graduate Healthcare Administration Certificate Program
Most graduate certificate programs require anywhere between 12 and 18 credit hours. They can usually be completed in under a year, and some allow fast-track approaches that can have you out the door in two semesters.
Generally, you will need to take two or three required classes, along with electives that match your interest or focus. Health systems, healthcare management, and accounting and healthcare financial management are commonly included in certificate programs. They can provide you with the essential knowledge you will need to succeed as a leader in the healthcare industry.
Certain other common courses that may be required, either as prerequisites or as part of your certificate program, may include:
Certificate programs focusing on a particular area will often include some of the courses above, as well as others based on the specialty area. For example, a certificate in geriatric care and management might include courses such as:
On the other hand, certificate programs in healthcare quality and safety might include courses such as:
Often you can transfer credits from your certificate program to a higher level graduate program if you have ambitions of going for the MHA or Doctor of Health Administration (DHA). Also, some certificate programs will allow you to transfer credits in from other graduate-level courses you may have taken, if they are applicable to your certificate program curriculum.
Post-Graduate Certificate in Health Administration
If you already hold your master’s degree, then of course, a post-graduate certificate in healthcare administration is what you’re after. It can prepare you to take on a broader scope of leadership within the healthcare industry, and it’s often aimed at professionals going for the kind of high level executive roles in which an MHA or DHA is already a part of the normal career path. That’s why post-graduate certificates are often geared to a very specific career path, such as those designed exclusively for nurses, or individuals with an MBA but little or no healthcare experience.
What Can I Do With a Post-Graduate Certificate in Health Administration?
Post-graduate certificates offer many of the same administrative and managerial skills as graduate certificates and can qualify you for the same types of positions. Because they are aimed at individuals who have already ascended higher on the educational ladder, though, they tend not to offer as wide a variety of concentrations as is typical with the post-bachelor’s options. Instead, you will find that the programs themselves tend to have a more specific focus, such as in nursing or business, and are designed to foster leadership skills within that particular administrative area.
Employment and Salary Expectations After Earning Post-Graduate Certificates in Healthcare Administration
Post-graduate certificate holders often find themselves competing for the same positions as graduate certificate holders, so there is not always much variation in the kind of salary and compensation packages you can expect.
However, if you already hold a master’s degree and are at a point in your career where you are even considering a post-master’s certificate, you are probably already further along in your overall career path than someone looking at post-bachelor’s certificate options. That additional experience and background will almost certainly place you toward the higher end of the salary scales for any specific position, and may open up positions of more responsibility immediately.
How Can I Qualify to Enter a Post-Graduate Certificate Program?
You’ll find more good news when it comes to application requirements for post-graduate certificate programs. They tend to be much less stringent than those for graduate-level programs. As the name implies, you will have to be a post-graduate, with a master’s degree to your name already, but the very fact you have already jumped through the hoops to get into and out of that master’s program clears the way for an easy entry to post-graduate studies… you may only be required to prove that you held a certain satisfactory minimum GPA in your master’s studies.
Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the paperwork that goes with any kind of college application, so you can expect to have to supply a transcript, resumes, and possibly letters of recommendation with your application as well.
Types of Courses in a Post-Graduate Healthcare Administration Certificate Program
Post-graduate certificate programs tend to last slightly longer than graduate-level certificates, taking a year or more and from 15 to 25 credits to earn, but are often part-time and available with flexible scheduling options.
They emphasize an education in operational, organization, and financial matters critical to healthcare administration. And you will get the same broad overview of the structure and major policy and political concerns that bear on the modern American healthcare system.
The specific coursework that you encounter will depend heavily on the intended audience of the post-grad program. For example, certificates aimed at business professionals may have more coursework on marketing and new product development, project management, and innovation, whereas one focused on producing nursing leaders will include more topics on clinical leadership, risk management, and change leadership.
Most programs will also include a broad slate of courses in administration basics, though, such as:
Online Health Administration Certificate Programs
The educational landscape has shifted dramatically over the last decade, with dramatic advances in technology, communications, and the high-tech savvy of the student body. Oh, and we can’t forget about that whole pandemic thing and the implications that’s going to have for many years to come; perhaps forever.
So it’s no surprise that today, many schools offer healthcare administration certificate programs entirely online. The courses you can take are generally no different from what you would find in on-campus certificate programs. And for the types of classes that are simply better conducted in-person, some programs are delivered in a hybrid format, with a combination of online and on-campus courses.
Online programs are ideal for working professionals as they offer total freedom in determining your own learning setting and schedule. You can generally work at your own pace, and courses are usually asynchronous, which means you can tackle the course content at a time and place of your choosing; 1 a.m. at the kitchen table is not unusual.
They can also increase your choice of schools, since you are not tied to one location. Some schools will even let you preview online courses so you can decide whether they are right for you.
Salary Expectations After Earning a Certificate in Healthcare Administration
The fact that the healthcare system in the United States has been rapidly expanding and attracting buckets of money at the same time is another point of interest for anyone entering healthcare administration, and one that you can benefit from directly: salaries in healthcare management are only going up for the foreseeable future.
According to the Total Compensation Solutions Hospital Executive Compensation Reporter from 2018, top finance executives in healthcare companies pull down the following base salaries, depending on experience and qualifications:
But pay also differs based on the size of the organization. Major companies, with revenues over $1 billion, paid an average of $602,700, while those bringing in less than $50 million annually offered $215,100.
Geography also impacts salary, with some parts of the country having both greater demand for healthcare executives and higher cost-of-living that can push salaries up:
But in management, it’s also important not to put too much emphasis on base salary. The TCS report also found that top executives could make as much as $100,000 of their overall compensation in the form of bonuses and stock grants. You’ll be assessed on how your department or business unit performs, in terms of patient satisfaction, safety, and efficiency, and you could be rewarded accordingly.
Choosing the Right Certificate Program
Although it can be tempting to only look into one or two schools—perhaps a school recommended by a professor or one that a friend or coworker attends—the fact is you are more likely to find the right school and program by investigating a number of options.
As you explore programs, ask the following questions:
- Are you considering pursuing a master’s degree after completion of your graduate certificate? If so, make sure the credits from your certificate program are transferable, since this is not always the case.
- Do you prefer an online or on-campus learning experience? If you need flexibility and you are good at time management, an online program might be right for you.
- Does the school have relationships with employers or other schools?
- Can I afford the school? Can I get financial aid? Note that not all certificate programs offer financial aid.
- Does the school have a good reputation? You can find sites such as College Score Card, run by the Department of Education, that rate schools based on factors such as graduation rates.
- Is the program aligned with your professional objectives or career path? Does it offer a concentration that will build out the skillset you need to achieve your goals?
Considering Accreditation in Healthcare Administration Certificate Programs
Since certificate programs deliver college credits, it’s important that the school you earn them from is properly accredited. Accreditation can affect transferability of the credits you earn, and even how the reputation and respectability of the school is perceived when it comes time to put your certificate to good use applying for jobs or promotion.
That’s because accreditation is offered by independent investigative bodies, each with relevant expertise in evaluating and assessing the academic and administrative competence of a program, looking at everything from curriculum standards to instructor hiring to grading and appeals procedures. It offers an outside verification that schools are giving you the kind of education they claim to offer.
Fortunately, with most American schools today, a general accreditation is almost a given. But when you are looking at education in a narrow professional subject like healthcare administration, it also pays to look for schools that hold a specialty accreditation in that topic.
For healthcare administration, the recognized specialty accreditor in the United States is CAHME, the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. Although they do not specifically evaluate certificate programs, they do accredit MHA programs, and in many cases you will be taking some of the same courses from the same instructors at schools that offer both. You can rest assured you’re getting a top quality healthcare management education if you are earning your certificate at a school with a CAHME-endorsed master’s.
With post-graduate certificates, you might make other allowances, however. Because those programs are more often offered by schools with a focus in areas other than healthcare administration, they may be covered by other specialty accreditors.
For example, if it’s a program in nursing administration, the program might be accredited by one of the two major accreditors that deal specifically with nursing programs:
If it’s a program offered through a business school, then it would one of these three accreditors that would sign off on it:
What are the Costs of Earning a Healthcare Administration Certificate?
For the most part, schools charge the same per-credit tuition rate for certificate programs as they do for their respective graduate-level programs. As with all college programs, you can also expect additional fees and charges along the way… technology and library fees, administrative fees, the costs of books and supplies. Each of those can vary by program, and depend on whether the school you attend is public or private, and whether you are a resident of the state or not.
The total tuition costs of certificate programs are fairly easy to calculate based on the number of credits required, and can run anywhere from around $10,000 to $20,000, with post-master’s certificates tending toward the high end based on their greater credit-hour requirements.
Online programs sometimes offer lower rates overall, and may not distinguish between in-state and out-of-state students. In some cases, you can get your costs down by nearly half through online enrollment, to under $5,000 in some cases
Resources For Executive Healthcare Administrators
No matter what educational path you choose, getting into healthcare administration is a long and winding path that you won’t have to walk alone. There are many resources available and shoulders to lean on along the way. You should never be afraid to reach out for advice or assistance, and the following organizations all offer opportunities to do so:
HEALTH ADMINISTRATION SCHOOLS
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota